Peter Kobelt, Skyler Engel and Riyad Bennoui of the New Albany High School boys tennis team aren't strangers to the state tournament.
All three were at the Stickney Tennis Center at Ohio State last season. Kobelt and Engel, both of whom qualified for state in 2006 as well, even earned the Division II title in doubles.
But all three will have an entirely new set of challenges Friday and Saturday at Ohio State as they take on an unfamiliar field in their first season at the Division I level.
Coach Andy Sinclair said he believed all three were capable of reaching this point, there were no guarantees going into the district tournament at Hilliard Davidson last Friday and Saturday.
"To get through to the state tournament, you always have got to be happy about that because there is an element of the luck of the draw," Sinclair said. "If you finish first like Pete did, and Skyler and Riyad, you're pretty much guaranteed you won't play a really good team until the second round, but they're all pretty good at the district. You've got to be playing well at the district."
Kobelt will play freshman Nolan Marks of Kenston in the first round. Marks earned the fifth of six qualifying spots from the Rocky River district tournament.
In the second round, the winner will play Alex Trzeciak of Avon Lake or Pat Bandy of Cincinnati St. Xavier. Bandy, the second seed from Cincinnati, has split two matches with Kobelt this season. Trzeciak is the third seed from Rocky River.
Kobelt, a junior who became the first New Albany player to reach state in singles since Kevin Kahn in 2002, said that because he was expected to reach this point, it was a relief when he clinched a spot with a 6-3, 7-5 win over Kyle Gerber of St. Charles last Friday.
"I guess that put the expectations on me, but I play one match at a time," Kobelt said. "It definitely is a relief to say I'm going to state."
Kobelt actually had even less trouble in the final two rounds, beating Sean Carr of Upper Arlington 6-3, 6-0 in a semifinal and Arren Carter of Olentangy Liberty 6-1, 6-3 in the championship.
Engel and Bennoui will play Greg Woyczynski and Aaron Robbins of Shaker Heights in the first round.
The Shaker Heights team is the third seed from the Rocky River district. In the second round, the winner will play Ryan Mellion and Matt Sloan of Massillon Jackson or Marc Pretorius and Jonathan Gaffney of Cincinnati St. Xavier. Pretorius and Gaffney are seeded first from Cincinnati, and Sloan and Mellion are fifth from Rocky River.
Engel and Bennoui, both of whom reached the state tournament with different doubles partners last year, lost just one game in their first two matches to advance to state.
After beating Nick Kowalczyk and Jonny Price of Worthington Kilbourne 6-3, 7-5 in a semifinal, however, Engel and Bennoui lost to brothers Philip and Chris Diaz of Watterson 6-2, 6-2.
Bennoui said this state tournament will have a decidedly different feel than it did last season.
"For me, definitely, because (graduate Ben Williams) and I barely got in last year," he said. "We came out of sectional as the four seed, came out of district as a four seed. It's nice to be there. I love playing at OSU, I love playing in front of a lot of people, so I can't wait."
Engel reached a state doubles quarterfinal in 2006 and teamed with Kobelt to win a title last year, so his goals are fairly clear-cut.
"My goal is to win it all again," Engel said.
"Anything less than that is not acceptable, I guess you could say."
Kobelt is 29-2, with his only loss to a Division I opponent coming against Pat Bandy of Cincinnati St. Xavier 6-4, 6-4 on April 12.
The Eagles had four other players at the district, but only junior John Buell was able to advance beyond the first round. Buell beat Stephen Valentine of Davidson 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 in the first round, then lost to Tyler Cempre of Thomas Worthington 6-2, 6-3 in a quarterfinal. Buell also reached the district last season but lost in the first round.
Sophomore Ryan McNutt, making his first district appearance, lost to Carr 6-1, 6-2 in the first round.
Senior Brian Williams and freshman Ari Richman, neither of whom had been to district before, lost to James Melvin and Phil Zunshine 6-2, 6-2 of UA in the first round.
•OTCA — New Albany's run in the Division I OTCA tournament came to an end May 21 as it lost to UA 3-1 in a regional final. Kobelt beat Will Theiman 6-2, 6-1 at first singles, but New Albany lost its matches at third singles and first and second doubles. Buell's match with Carr was in progress when UA clinched the match.